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TREASURE HUNT

ó by Ted R. Blasingame, with Steve Carter

Chapter 2
 

The noon sun of the mid-October day on Earth was warm, but comfortably so.  A gentle breeze stirred up leaves of red, orange, yellow and brown along an asphalt road that meandered through the scenic, hilly woodlands of the San Bois Mountains of southeast Oklahoma.  A single red-tailed hawk rode the thermals above a shallow valley, patiently seeking the tiniest movement of prey.

A slow moving pickup truck of questionable origin puttered along the road.  The driver was a weathered farmer wearing denim overalls, plaid shirt, boots and an old straw hat that had seen better days.  In the back of the truck were several rectangular bales of hay and a number of burlap sacks of feed corn.

The old gentleman watched the road lazily, his left elbow resting upon the open window frame.  His mind wandered as he drove, thinking idly of the coming winter season, but then he suddenly rubbed his eyes.

Just a moment earlier, he had been alone in the country valley, but now there was a man standing almost on top of the dashed yellow line in the middle of the road only a few hundred feet in front of the truck.  The farmer slowed to a stop and stared at the fellow who stood with his back to him.

At the sound of the vehicleís squeaky brakes, the man turned around to look at him.  The farmer swallowed and rubbed his eyes again.  The man, dressed in what looked like a dark grey, single-piece garment with dark boots and a belt began walking toward him.  A duffel bag of some sort was slung over one shoulder, but it was the manís features that made the old gentís heart beat rapidly.

The strangerís collar-length hair, full, airy, and windblown, was the color of turquoise, although his close-cropped beard was black.  Long bangs fell across dark eyebrows and threatened to cover a pair of eyes so white that the farmer wondered if the fellow was blind. 

Aside from the hair, eyes and strange clothing, the man otherwise looked normal, but the farmer was unnerved by just how he had appeared in the middle of the road; his mind hadnít wandered so far as to miss seeing the man approach across the open fieldson both sides of the avenue. 

Nevertheless, the farmer would always lend a helping hand to anyone stranded this far from town, so he calmed his nerves and quietly waited until the man approached his open window.

As he got closer, the old man swallowed again.  Black pupils surrounded by white irises did indeed make the fellow appear as if he was blind, but there was no doubt that the stranger was staring directly at him when he stopped at his elbow.

The man opened his mouth and said something to the farmer in a strangely accented voice, but the words were not in any language the old gentleman knew.

"Iím sorry, son," the farmer said apologetically, "but I canít understand you."

The turquoise-haired stranger tilted his head and then appeared to think over the old manís statement.  After only a moment, though, he cleared his throat and tried again.

"Forgive me," he said in English.  The accent was still there, but at least the farmer could understand him now.  "Can you tell me where I am? I am new to this place."

The farmer looked at him for a moment and then nodded.  "Youíre about fifteen miles outside of Wilburton, son.  Did your car break down?"

"No, sorry.  I am on foot.  Is Wilburton a large city?"

"Itís not real big, but there is a college there.  I just came from Wilburton, but if you need a lift, I can take you back there," the farmer offered with a gesture toward the empty pickup seat next to him.

"Thank you, but I am looking for a large city to find work."

"Well, son, youíre a long ways from Tulsa or Oklahoma City, Iím afraid.  Maybe you can catch the bus from Wilburton."

The strangerís face lit up with recognition of a name.  "Oklahoma City?" he asked.  "How far am I from there?"

"Thatís about a hundred-sixty miles.  I think the bus from Wilburton can get you there in about three hours."

"What direction is it from here, please?"

The farmer thought it a strange question, but he shrugged and said, "Itís northwest of here."  He leaned out the window and pointed back in the general direction.  "That way," he added.

"Thank you very much," the stranger said, fingering a pendant that hung from his neck.  "You have been most helpful."

The farmer looked up at him and was about to offer him a ride one more time, but then he stopped and stared.  It was hard to tell in the bright noon sunlight, but it almost seemed as if the manís eyes glowed for a moment.  He rubbed his face and took another look, but when he glanced back, the stranger was gone.

The farmer started, blinking rapidly, and then he craned his neck outside the window.  The strange man with the funny hair and odd white eyes was nowhere to be seen!  He could not have run across the field toward the distant trees at the foot of the mountains that bordered the small valley.  There had not been enough time for him to run that fast.

He looked behind him, wondering if the guy had crawled up into the back of his pickup truck, but there was only hay and feed corn there.  The farmer swallowed hard, pulled a handkerchief from a pocket, and daubed his forehead beneath the straw hat.

Had he imagined a conversation with such a stranger?  He was quite willing to believe that he must have fallen asleep at the wheel of his truck and dreamed it.  Thankfully, he had not been traveling fast.

Unnerved by the experience, the farmer put his truck into gear and resolved to keep his attention on the road lest he doze off again. 

* * * 

The stranger's vision shimmered briefly and then his surroundings changed instantly.  Before his feet settled onto the ground, he felt a minute shift to the right before he felt his full weight again. It wouldnít do to materialize inside a tree, wall or fence post, but his ability automatically sensed such things during teleportation. He stood still for just a moment to allow the familiar disorienting effects of the transference to fade. He looked around and noted that although teleporting to an unknown destination had been successful, he didnít know if the place where he arrived was where he had intended.

He was surrounded by trees with leaves that had turned brown with the autumn season, but they were of a different kind and were not as colorful as those he had seen in the shallow valley.  Dry leaves crackled beneath his boots as he turned to look around him.  There was no road in sight, but he could hear the traffic of a lone vehicle fading into the distance.

He adjusted the duffel strap over his shoulder and began walking through scrubby underbrush in the direction of the sound he had heard.  Moments later, he emerged from the trees onto an overgrown grassy shoulder of an asphalt road.  The street looked patched and well-worn, and bits of colorful paper littered the ground at his feet.

He frowned and knelt down to examine the trash.  A waxy-covered paper cup displayed the logo of a local fast-food restaurant and it took him a moment to recognize the writing.  As with the language he had spoken with the farmer, the words on the cup were in English.  This confirmed his assumption that he had arrived on Earth, although he still did not know when and where.

He picked up another bit of paper clinging to a stalk of dried grass and studied a somber face that decorated its surface.  The material had been well handled and exposed to the elements, but the stranger recognized the money for what it was and pocketed the twenty-dollar bill when he stood up. 

He absently fingered a dark grey pendant that hung from his neck on a silver-colored chain, pondering his situation.  Instinctively, he knew which direction was north, but until he could determine his location, he did not want to move farther away from his destination by mistake.

His keen hearing detected the sound of tires rolling on the asphalt road behind him.  A swift moving orange van passed him without slowing, quickly disappearing around a bend.  People here were not used to someone with his appearance, so it didnít surprise him that the driver had not stopped to offer him a ride.  The stranger brushed a few stray locks of turquoise hair from his white eyes and began walking in the direction the van had been going.

A half hour later, he came upon a car stalled by the side of the road.  It was a slick red convertible with the top down and the hood up.  He walked around its back fender and saw a young woman asleep in the driverís seat.  Her blonde hair fell gently about her shoulders and she wore denim jeans with a matching denim blouse.  Although he might not be a native of the place, he recognized her beauty and had to force himself not to stare.

He cleared his throat and said in accented English, "May I be of assistance?"

The thirty-something woman jumped awake and sat up startled.  The manís appearance unnerved her more than his sudden presence, but his posture was relaxed and unthreatening.  She seemed unsure of him, but after a quick glance at her watch, she realized just how long she had been stranded there.  He was the only one who had offered to help, but she did not see his car or truck after a brief look around.

"Hello," she said in a voice she hoped was calm.  "I stopped to take a photograph for a project and couldnít get the car running again. I left my cell phone at home on the charger, so I couldn't call anyone."  As soon as she'd said this last, the woman felt a shiver shoot up and down her spine. She'd just revealed to a stranger that she had no way to call for help. She hoped she hadn't just placed herself in danger.

Not realizing her train of thought, man simply nodded and set down the duffel bag strapped over his right shoulder.  He moved to the front of the vehicle and peered at the engine under the open hood.  The engineering was simple and he grunted once to himself as he wiggled a corroded battery terminal that was loose.  He pulled the terminal free of the post, used a stick from the ground to scrape off enough of the corroded material to get a clean spot, and then pushed the terminal back into place upon its post. He tightened it as best he could with his fingers and then stepped back.

"Try it now," he said.  The woman turned the key and the engine started immediately.  She smiled at him with large, deep blue eyes.

"Thank you very much, mister uh..." she said.

"Rojur Delondin," he replied.

"Can I give you a ride into town, Mister Rogers?" she asked.  "Itís not much farther."

"Rojur," he corrected.  "Yes, that would be nice."  He bent down and wiped a small amount of grease on his fingers onto the grass beside the road, unwilling to get the woman's vehicle filthy.  He stood back up and retrieved his bag."Once you get to your destination, you should have a mechanic clean the battery terminals for you. The corrosion is what kept it from starting for you."

"Thank you, I will."The woman looked again at his pale eyes and hair color, and then motioned to the passenger seat.  Rojur placed his bag in the back seat next to her camera bag and then got in beside her.

"Nice to make your acquaintance, Miss," he said as she eased the car out onto the roadway.

"Ms," she corrected him, slipping on a pair of large sunglasses.  "Saundra Scott.  You aren't from around here, are you?"

Rojur laughed and shook his head.  "No, I am not from around here."

"I didn't think so, but I do not recognize your accent.  Are you traveling?"

Rojur nodded and held a hand up to his forehead to keep his long bangs from flogging his face in the wind from the open top of the car.  "Yes," he answered.  "I am traveling.  Can you tell me where we are going?" The forest of trees fell behind them and they were now driving through open farmland.

"We're coming up on Route 66," Saundra told him.  "We'll make a left turn up ahead and then it's a straight shot into Edmond."

The name of Edmond seemed familiar to him, but Rojur's memory was sketchy.  "Is that near Oklahoma City?" he asked.

Saundra laughed and looked over at him.  "Yes, it's just north of the City.  Are you an actor with a film crew?" she asked.  "I heard the state film commission was making a sci-fi movie and your makeup could fit with what I've heard described."

Rojur raised an eyebrow.  "No, I am not with a film crew.  However, I was hoping to find work and a place to stay in Oklahoma City.  Traveling gets tiresome and I am ready to stay put for a while."

"You aren't doing a film?" the woman asked, seeming perplexed.  "Why are you dressed up like that, then? Halloweenís not for another two weeks."

Rojur frowned and fell silent, his pale eyes on the road.  When he sensed that Saundra was about to repeat her question, he sighed and said, "I suppose I need new clothes, but I assure you I am not wearing makeup."

"ButÖ your hair and eyesÖ"

"Öare my natural colors," he finished for her.

The woman guided the car through an intersection and then turned onto a two-lane highway.  "I thought albinos had red eyes, white hair and skin," she said.

"I am not albino," Rojur said with patience.  Then, before she had a chance to ask, he added, "Neither am I blind. I can see just fine."

"You must be a long way from home, then," Saundra said with a shake of her head.

"I am."

The woman looked over at him with an expression of embarrassment.  "Mister Rogers, please forgive me," she said.  "I do have better manners, but I admit your appearance surprised me.  I'm sure you've gotten this a lot since you've come to our country, but that's no excuse for me to be rude."

"I accept your apology," he replied.  "At my first opportunity, I shall purchase a pair of sunglasses like yours to cover my eyes from those not used to them."

Saundra nodded, but said nothing more.  Rojur settled in for the ride, thankful for the lift, but he was still unsure of his destination.  It had been years since he was last in Oklahoma City, but that was in a different age and things were likely to be far different.

His duffel bag in the back seat shifted and fell over when they drove around a curve that skirted an old round red barn.  He looked back at it and noted the woman's camera bag strapped in with a seat belt.

"Are you a professional photographer, Ms. Scott?"

Saundra nodded.  "I use the photographs as subjects to professionally paint and sculpt from, but I donít publish the pictures themselves.  I am an artist."  She glanced over at him with a smile and asked, "What do you do, besides hike along seldom-used roads and rescue damsels in distress whose chariots have broken down?"

Rojur laughed and answered, "I have done many things.  I have been a soldier, an explorer, an engineer, a businessman, and numerous other things that I will not bore you with."

"An engineer and a businessman," she repeated. "Why would you give up that kind of career to go to another country for a cross-country hike? Is this a vacation walkabout?"

"Let us just say that my father and I needed time away from one another and leave it at that."

"I see," Saundra said. "Tell me, what kind of work are you looking for? I might be able to help you."

Rojur looked over at her with interest. "Just about anything," he answered, "but it must pay enough so I may afford a place to live."

"My boyfriend lives in Edmond, but owns a number of businesses in the City," she said. "I'm sure he could put you to work in something appropriate if I ask him nicely enough."

"I would appreciate that," Rojur replied.

"It's the least I can do for someone who helped me while I was stranded." 

* * * 

Rojur and Saundra chatted idly for the next several miles into Edmond. They drove along well-maintained avenues into a section of town populated by rustic estates of those with great personal wealth. One such street ended in a large cul-de-sac that was bordered with a tall iron fence and thick hedges on the inside perimeter. Two iron gates in the middle were flanked on each side by a brick pillar topped with the concrete likeness of a howling wolf. At the moment, the gates were open to permit entrance into the grounds.

A lush green lawn bordered each side of the driveway, but it was the house that captured Rojur's attention. Behind several tall trees, the two-story structure was made up of grey rock in varying shades. A large stone archway stood out from the house by several feet, protecting a pair of wooden doors and a huge bay window set in the wall above them. A chimney occupied a forward wall on one end of the house and several more windows bordered by dark grey shutters decorated the front of the structure on both floors. The high roof was topped by matching grey shingles and the edge of a rear wing could be seen over the top of the building.

Set slightly in front of the house was a pair of matching buildings that were connected together with a covered roof that spanned across the driveway on its way to a three car garage. Cobblestone walkways led visitors from the drive up around the trees to the front archway, with shrubs, bushes and autumn flowers bordering the foundation of the house. The entire property was surrounded by a thick mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees, and although Rojur had not yet seen the rear of the estate, he was sure there was likely to be a swimming pool and several out-buildings.

The home was large, but not extravagant, and although it appeared a lot of money was invested in the place, Rojur thought the lawn looked a little shaggy and several of the shrubs were in need of trimming. Had his own father not maintained a similar home, he might not have noted all the details of the landscape.  Still, the place was nice and fit in well with the rustic feel of the expensive neighborhood.

Saundra stopped the car on the wide drive next to the autumn grass, pulling up behind a sleek, sand-colored sports car with a low profile and a futuristic top that seemed to be completely seamless. The two of them got out of the vehicle and Rojur reached into the back to retrieve his duffel, but the woman shook her head quietly.

"Leave it for now," she told him.

Rojur nodded and followed her along the walk toward the front door of the house. "This is a nice place," he commented. "What does your boyfriend do?"

Saundra flashed him a wide smile and brushed her shoulder-length blond hair back to expose a delicate ear with a dangly diamond earring. "He owns Blackthorne Industries, as well as controlling shares in over half the major businesses in Oklahoma City."

"Easy to see the money at his disposal," Rojur said with a glance toward the other car.

"He has the money, but he isn't that extravagant," Saundra responded with a frown. "I think he designed theOberon as a concept car just so Moran could drive it to new car shows. Alex drives a classic 1996 Dodge Stealth."

"How old is that?"

Saundra looked at him strangely. "The Stealth is twenty-two years old, but he had it restored and keeps it maintained in perfect running order. I prefer my '17 Ford Mustang. It's only a year old and purrs like a kitten."

Rojur simply nodded and mentally worked out the time difference. He had traveled farther than he intended, but after a quick glance at the shapely form he followed, he had no complaints thus far.

Just as they approached the front door, it was opened for them. Standing just inside was a striking figure of excellent grooming, standing with perfect posture; his black hair was neatly combed and he wore a flawless charcoal grey suit. He appeared to be in his late thirties and carried himself with an air of competence.

Rojur was immediately impressed by Saundra's boyfriend, but then he realized he had made a mistake when the man gave her a brief nod and said in rich, full tones, "Hello again, Ms. Scott. It is agreeable to see you again."

The blonde gave the man a waggle of her fingers and said, "Hello, Chester. Please tell Alex I am here."

"Right away, ma'am. Please come inside."

Rojur followed her into the house, giving Chester a pleasant smile that was not returned. The majordomo's brown eyes lingered briefly on the stranger's hair and eye color, but made no mention of the oddity before closing the door. He turned with military precision and disappeared around a corner while Saundra stepped into the foyer with familiarity.

The interior of the house was roomy and had a rustic feel. Polished grey beams ran along the ceiling, contrasting with the dark polished wood floor.  Opposite the front door, a staircase with steps of dark wood and a matching banister curved gently to the right toward the second floor. At the wall near the bottom step was an antique grandfather clock still in precision working order, its large pendulum swinging slowly behind three large counterweights at various heights.

Scenic artwork in decorative frames held spots of honor on the walls illuminated with small spotlights, and a close inspection of a painting of an old but familiar round red barn revealed the name S. Scott.

Rojur smiled at the detail in the painting, but was unsure which medium with which it had been created. He turned to ask her, but the shapely woman walked into a waiting area lined with a plush beige carpet. The stone fireplace in the alcove was flankedbylupine sculptures similar to the ones out at the main gate. Simple aromatic candles burned serenely upon the mantle, giving the room a subtle mulberry scent.

An oak bookshelf occupied the wall on one side of the fireplace, and a large, flat-panel television set occupied the other side in a wooden cabinet that matched the overhead beams.  The furniture, while obviously expensive, was simple in design and colors to match the room.

"Saundra?"

Saundra and Rojur turned in unison to look at the speaker. The gentleman that strode into the room was a striking man with dark hair, thick eyebrows and a neatly trimmed mustache. His grey eyes were bright and his strong chin was set beneath a cautious smile. He was dressed in a sharp pair of navy blue slacks, polished shoes and a white long-sleeve shirt. The collar was open and a three-tone blue silk tie was in the man's hands.

Alexander Marcus Blackthorne had started off his working career as a floor sweeper at a factory and made his way to foreman. After that, he had studied at the University of Oklahoma and later developed a new type of alloy process in which steel was rendered transparent; this miracle metal was now commonly called glassteel with contracts throughout the world that would eventually form the foundation of Blackthorne Industries, but it took three investors and a loan from his parents to stand up to scorn and skepticism from the steel industry.

Unwilling to consider himself a one-hit wonder, Alex Blackthorne branched out into other fields and was mildly successful in everything except for one software venture.  His keen scientific mind and a knack for business administration were instrumental in his meteoric rise at a young age. Blackthorne's firm concerned itself with metallurgy, scientific advancement, genetics and biochemical studies, making its investors very wealthy people. Among its achievements was an inexpensive bonding solution that almost totally eliminated the need for motor oil in automotive engines Ė a development that unfortunately put a great number of quickie car lubes out of business, and greatly displeased the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.  Despite all this, he tried to remain grounded, remembering simple beginnings and simpler times. He surrounded himself with items of luxury, but refrained from being extravagant.

"Alex," Saundra said as she crossed the room to give him a light kiss.

Blackthorne gave her a brief hug and then made a cursory glance at Rojur's hair and eyes before returning his attention to his girlfriend. "I did not expect you back until later tonight," he said in a smooth voice. There was a light Okie accent to his voice, but it was so subtle that Rojur almost did not catch it.

"I had some car trouble on the way back from Arcadia," Saundra explained. "There was a quaint pumpkin patch and corn maze I wanted to shoot for my next painting, so I was away from main traffic when the engine stopped."

"Oh, did you call for road service?"

Saundra looked embarrassed.  "No, I left my phone on the charger at home." She turned to Rojur and gestured toward him. "Mister Rogers was on foot and was kind enough to give me a hand, so I felt obligated to reward him with a ride."

"She has a corroded battery cable that may need to be replaced," Rojur explained.

Alex turned toward the stranger politely and offered a hand. "Thank you for your help," he said. "I am Alexander Blackthorne."

"I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Blackthorne. I am Rojur Delondin," he said, clasping his hand. He stepped back and put his hands behind his back for lack of anything else to do with them.

"So what is it we can do for you?"

Saundra leaned in again and said, "Mr. Rogers is a foreigner traveling abroad. However, he wishes to set down for a while and is in need of work in the interim. I thought perhaps you might have something he could do in one of your businesses."

Blackthorne's gaze roved over the stranger, an unreadable expression on his face, and his attention stopped full on Rojur's eyes. "Where do you hail from, Mr. Delondin?" he asked.

Rojur tried to appear as innocent as he could. "Quite some distance," he replied. "Little place overseas. I doubt most of the world even knows of its existence."

"What's it called?" Saundra asked curiously.

"Roswei," Rojur replied after the barest hesitation. At least this bit of information was not a lie.

"No, I cannot say that I have heard of it," Blackthorne mused. His eyes had narrowed slightly, but then his expression became lighter when Saundra tugged on his arm. He walked with her in tow toward the windows looking out across the front yard.

"Take a look outside, Mr. Delondin." Blackthorne directed him. "The local college grounds-keepers I used disbanded last week, but I have not yet secured another group. As you can see, the lawn is in need of attention. The landscapers usually sent two or three workers out once a week and it took them all day to mow, trim, edge and maintain the yard. Do you think you can do all that for me if it was all spread out over several days?"

Rojur nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied. "I am sure I could keep it maintained for you."

"It is close to the end of the season, but there are still a few weeks left of yard work you can do.  Chester can get your personal information in a proper application strictly on formality, and then you can get started."

"Thank you, sir. What type of personal information will you need?" Rojur asked cautiously.

"Standard information, really. Name, current and past addresses, social identification number, birthdate, past work experience, et cetera."

"There may be a problem with that," Rojur admitted, turning away from the window. "I do not have a social identification number. I am a foreigner to this place."

"That's simple enough. We can use your travel passport, but you will need to apply for a work visa if you plan to stay a while."

Rojur's frown grew deeper. As a visitor to the planet, he had none of these things. His birthdate would not translate well and his past addresses would simply not be believed. There was no way he could tell the truth, so if he were going to survive here, he was going to have to start lying about some things.

When Blackthorne saw the hesitation in the stranger's face, he frowned. "Trouble with that, too?" he asked dryly.

"Lost my passportÖ" was all Rojur could think to say.

Saundra sidled up to Blackthorne and threaded an arm through one of his. "I was stranded out on the countryside," she reminded him in a whisper. "He was the only one to lift a finger to help me, and could have easily taken advantage of me, but he has been a complete gentleman."

Blackthorne looked sideways at her and studied her for a long moment before he finally nodded. He looked back over to Rojur and muttered, "It would not be the first time I have paid someone under the table. Where are you staying?"

"Having just arrived in town, I have not had time to look for a place," Rojur answered while Saundra gave Blackthorne a brief kiss on the cheek in thanks.

Blackthorne studied him a moment further and then glanced down at the silk tie in his hands. "The size of the grounds will likely keep you occupied full time," he said. "It would be better if you were nearby, since you do not even appear to have transportation." He gestured toward the curved wooden staircase near the front door and said, "There are no servants' quarters, but you may use the first guest room at the top of the stairs until you can secure lodging elsewhere."

Rojur gave the man a short bow, surprising Blackthorne and making Saundra chuckle. "Thank you for your hospitality," he said. "I appreciate your generosity."

Blackthorne held out his hand. "How about a handshake instead of bowing," he offered. "That's more common in our country."

"Yes, of course. I forgot. May I ask a question about your staff?" Blackthorne lifted an eyebrow, but nodded. "You said you had no quarters for the servants. Who keeps the house for you?"

"I hire a cleaning service to come out twice a week," Blackthorne replied. "They don't stay long, just enough to do their work and leave."

"Perhaps at the end of the season when the yard work is through, I can help with the inside."

Blackthorne shook his head and led them all back toward the dining room where Chester was pouring an aromatic coffee into three ornate cups. "One thing at a time, Mr. Delondin. We shall see how well you do with the lawn before we talk of anything further. How do you take your coffee?"

"Green," Rojur replied automatically. When he saw the hesitant looks of the other three, he crooked the side of his mouth into a smile and said, "Just black, thank you."

"Cute," Alex said with the hint of a smirk. He flipped the silk tie in his hands over his neck and began to thread it into a Windsor knot. Saundra tried to help, but he waved her off with a brief look of irritation. "I have a briefing at the downtown office in an hour. Chester, this is Rojur Delondin. He will be taking care of the grounds as of today and will be staying in the room at the top of the stairs. Rojur, this is Chester Hobbes, the majordomo of my estate. He will get you set up in your room and then introduce you to the groundskeeper shed, where you will find all the necessary equipment."

Hobbes handed him a cup and saucer after serving Saundra and Alex. "Thank you, Chester," Rojur said.

"If you must address me, I will answer to Mr. Hobbes," the majordomo replied. Neither his tone nor expression was stern, but Rojur caught the irritation at being addressed by his first name by a newcomer.

"Of course," he said with a minute bow. "Forgive my mistake."  He turned to Saundra, who set down her cup to help Alex into the jacket of his suit. "Does anyone else live here that I should be introduced to before I begin my work?"

"Only my son,Brandon," replied Alex. "He is in the den with his private tutor, Mr. Moran. Chester can introduce you to him later. Now, I must be off to the office. I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Delondin. Have fun with the lawn." He turned to Saundra and gave her a pleasant smile. "We did not expect you until later tonight," he said, "but you are welcome to hang around until then."

"No, I'll be back at the usual time," the blonde replied with a shake of her head. "I need to process my film and set up the prints to dry before then." She smiled over at Rojur and added, "Although just about everything is digital these days, I still prefer high quality film for my model photographs."

Rojur finished his drink and set the cup on a serving tray on the dining table. "Thank you for the coffee, Mr. Hobbes," he said. "I will need to retrieve my belongings from Ms. Scott's car and then I can change into clothing better suited for lawn work."

All eyes went to Rojur's dark grey, single-piece garment adorned only with a belt and dark boots. Alex had been so absorbed in the stranger's hair and eyes that he had not taken a good look at the man's clothing. Whoever had made the outfit had done a good job concealing the seams and hems so that it appeared to be made of a single piece of material that was uninterrupted by even a pocket. Whichever country Rojur had come from seemed to have excellent tailors, although Blackthorne himself would not have chosen this particular style.  In reality, Alex preferred jeans, boots and a simple shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, but due to his career position, he was just as at home in a business suit.

The grandfather clock chimed the quarter-hour with a deep note and Alex looked up with a frown. "Time to go," he said. Saundra kissed him briefly on the cheek and then the man moved off toward a corridor that would lead him toward his garage.

Saundra looked over at Rojur and gestured toward the door. "If you will get your bag, I need to be on my way as well."

Halfway along walk back to the cars, Rojur heard the front door open again behind them. He turned to look and saw a lanky boy ofeleven or twelve push his way past another man to break into a run toward him and Saundra.

"Sandy!" exclaimed the youth in a husky voice. The boy in denim shorts and a white tank-top was barely more than a collection of bones and lean muscles with skin stretched over it. His shoulder-length hair was a jumbled collection of browns and blonds.

Rojur didnít think the boy looked anything like his father, Mr. Blackthorne, so he assumed the child might be adopted.

The youth glanced up at him and their eyes locked for a brief moment, white peering into cobalt blue, but then the lad flung himself into Saundra's open arms.

"Hey, kiddo," the woman said to the boy. "Finished with your studies?"

"Yup. Carl said I done good."

"Did well," corrected the one Rojur guessed to be Carl. "He hits high marks in just about everything," the man added.

Saundra raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Almost everything?" she asked. "What do you need to improve upon?"

The boy worried his bottom lip with a glance back at Carl and then replied, "Uhm, grammar and spelling."

"He does fine," Carl explained, "but he just needs to be a little more attentive."

Alex's gleaming, black Dodge Stealth eased out of the garage and he gave them all a wave from the window as he passed. They watched him until he disappeared through the iron gates, but when they turned back to face one another, Saundra suddenly seemed to remember the newcomer.

"Mr. Delondin, this is Brandon Blackthorne," she said with a smile, "and Carl Moran, Brandon's private tutor."

"Hello," Rojur replied.

"Hi," the boy replied, shoving both hands in his back pockets.

Saundra smiled. "Brandon, this is Mr. Delondin, your Dad's new groundskeeper. He's a foreigner and is a little fuzzy on our customs, so please be helpful when you can."

Moran was a tanned young man in his late twenties dressed in casual slacks, sneakers and a white shirt with long sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair looked perpetually windblown, with the strands of dark brown and fading to blonde at the tips. It was relatively short on the sides, but the length in the back caressed the tops of his shoulders. He had dark eyes and darker eyebrows, but the stubble upon his chin was barely visible due to its light color.

Moran reached out with a solemn expression and shook hands with Rojur. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Delondin," he said.

"Thank you, Mr. Moran."

The tutor smiled, putting his hands into his pants pockets. "Please call me Carl," he said.

The foreigner returned the smile, liking the other man instantly. "Likewise, you may call me Rojur," he said.

"Roger Dodger," Moran replied.

"No," interrupted the boy at his side, tugging at the tutor's sleeve, "he said it was Rah-zur."

Carl looked down at him with a grin and then gave Rojur a subtle wink. "I know, kiddo," he replied. "It's just a joke between us."

Rojur smiled and then looked over at Saundra. "Interesting character, this Carl of yours."

The woman laughed aloud. "He's not mine , you can have him!"

"Gee, thanks too much!" Moran replied with a laugh of his own. He then turned back to the boy and put a hand on his shoulder. "I need to get ready for my flight, but I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Be sure to study the material I gave you, and then we'll see how much you've improved when I get back."

"Bring me back something," Brandon requested, shoving his hands into the pockets of his shorts, mimicking the tutor's earlier stance.

"Sure thing, kiddo." He tousled the boy's hair and then turned to Saundra. "How about a good-bye kiss?"

"Keep dreaming, Romeo," the photographer retorted with a grin, walking toward the red convertible. Rojur fell in step behind her, the others trailing along.

"Are you going on vacation?" he asked the tutor.

Carl shook his head. "It's a business trip to Bangkok, Thailand," he replied, "although I plan to touch base with some friends of mine whilst there."

They reached the car and Rojur pulled his duffel from the back seat as Saundra slid behind the wheel. She put her sunglasses back on and then looked up at the newcomer.

"Thank you again for your help, Mr. Delondin," she said. "I will see you again this evening."  Rojur gave her a smile and a short bow, and then she waved to Brandon and Moran as she backed away.

"Time for me to go, too," Carl said. He gave Brandon a brief hug, shook hands with Rojur, and then strode over to his tan Oberon. He thumbed a remote on his key ring and the driver side door opened, ruining the illusion that the vehicle had been molded without seams. The man slid into the seat and then started the engine. It barely made a sound with only a deep thrum like a cat's purr coming from its tail pipe. Moran waved again through the window and then eased the concept car out and then down the driveway. Just as soon as Moran had gone, Brandon ran off across the yard without a backward glance and then disappeared around the corner of the house.

Rojur turned to head back to the house, but he suddenly discovered that Hobbes stood beside him. Rojur was startled, having not heard the majordomo approach, and briefly wondered if the man had ability to teleport like himself.

"If you will follow me," Chester said to him quietly, "we can get you set up in your room before you begin your work on the grounds."

"Thank you, please lead the way," Rojur replied. As they walked back up the cobblestone walk toward the front door, Hobbes glanced over at him briefly. There was suspicion in that glimpse, and Rojur knew he would have to be wary around this one.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.